On the Phenomenal Rise of Duterte to Power

Dindo Manhit, Stratbase-ADRi President

After the three grueling months of election campaigns, the Filipino nation has chosen “Tunay na Pagbabago” or radical change. The continuing wide lead of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte over his presidential rivals1 has cemented his position as the presumptive president who will steer the course of the country’s defense and security, national governance and foreign relations for the next six years. News of his impending inauguration have brought a sense of cautious optimism across all sectors of the society, which has clamored for a swift end to endemic corruption, inefficiency in the bureaucracy, income inequality, and the proliferation of armed groups and other lawless elements. These factors have characterized the post-EDSA regime and stymied the Philippines’ full realization of its potential.

Amid the rising expectations of the general Filipino public and growing curiosity of foreign audience to “The Punisher”, it would then be crucial to flesh out Duterte’s three overarching policy thrusts and strategic interventions to translate his campaign promise of “Tunay na Pagbabago” or radical change into lived reality.

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Image Source: The Summit Express

Reestablishing Law and Order

The centerpiece of Duterte’s campaign platform is suppressing three societal evils: crime, illegal drugs and corruption2, which he strongly believes are undermining security across all sectors and generations as well as hampering growth of the domestic economy. He intends to instill discipline with an iron fist for everyone to adhere to the rule of law3 and strengthen the country’s justice system.4 He also desires to bring an end to decades-long Communist and Moro insurgencies, build lasting peace throughout the archipelago irrespective of ethnic group, religious affiliation or political ideology, and rally the entire nation in thwarting the threats of violent extremism, defending the country’s territorial sovereignty, integrating well within the ASEAN region, and helping promote international peace, understanding, friendship and cooperation.5

To reestablish law and order in the land, he plans to launch a focused, time-bound campaign against criminals, drug lords and corrupt government officials through the joint efforts of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).6 Meanwhile, he plans to engage the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in peace talks and even offer their members top posts in four line departments in his bid to build a coalition government.7 He also wishes to extend his olive branches to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) by pushing for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which shall make the proposed Bangsamoro region a template for federal states under his envisioned federal system.8 Finally, he desires to elevate landmark ordinances in Davao City to the national level in his bid to curb what Duterte believes as contributory factors to lawlessness and disorder, such as curfew on unescorted minors past 10 p.m., ban on liquor sale and drinking in public spaces after 1:00 am, and so on.9

Inclusivizing Socio-economic Growth and Development

Duterte has expressed his desire to build on the stellar accomplishments of the administration of outgoing President Benigno Aquino III, particularly the latter’s good governance initiatives and critical structural reforms which have successfully transformed the Philippines from being “the sick man of Asia” into “Asia’s rising tiger.”10 However, he intends to depart from Aquino’s legacy of instituting slow but steady macroeconomic reform by advancing his 8-point economic agenda11 which seeks to upgrade, accelerate as well as expand the government’s basic services that shall render the country’s macroeconomic environment more conducive for the flourishing of businesses, influx of investments and conduct of seamless trade within the country and the greater ASEAN region. Some of his megaprojects worth anticipating include: (a) three major railway systems, namely the Mindanao railway, Manila-Bicol railway, and Manila-Batangas railway12; (b) Zamboanga Ecozone, Southern Mindanao Growth Corridor (General Santos growth corridor and Davao Gulf Industrial corridor)13; and the South Mindanao-North Sulawesi ro-ro link14, among others.

Duterte intends to overcome the alleged structural dissonance between macroeconomic reform which has been the hallmark of Aquino’s “Daang Matuwid” program and concrete improvement of living conditions and standards of Juan dela Cruz. In doing so, he has talked about pursuing the following: generation of domestic jobs; increase of employment; abolition of contractualization; promotion of livelihood; agricultural modernization; and entrepreneurial, technological and industrial advancement with just taxation and equitable distribution of wealth while caring for the environment for sustainable development.15 He also plans to carry out the following: improvement of government provision of social services which include education, health, housing, mass transportation with special attention to the elderly, women, children, youth, indigenous peoples and other marginalized sectors; provision of assistance to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and their families; and adaptation to climate change through reducing risk, preparing for natural disasters and adopting 911 nationwide.16

Restructuring the Form of Government

Lastly, Duterte wants to overhaul the Unitary-Presidential System and shift to a Federal-Parliamentary System through a Constitutional Convention.17 He desires the holding of a plebiscite and preparing the future federal states to effect power-sharing, resources-sharing, respect-for-all and development-for-all as key to reforming the whole bureaucracy to effect good governance.18 Reforms under the new system shall include: increasing the salaries of government workers; fighting graft and corruption; and unleashing the full potentials of all regions and ethnic groups for social, economic and cultural growth.19 Furthermore, constitutional amendment shall empower the Congress to amend restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution, grant more foreign ownership of property and certain industries20, and improve the country’s overall standing in its bid to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Uncertain but Promising Road Ahead

While Duterte’s policy thrusts and strategic interventions shall, in principle, improve internal security, provide political stability and catalyze inclusive growth in the country, one can hardly deny that the radicalism of his grand vision will, in reality, draw opposition along multiple fronts. Not only is he about to wage a bloody war against the “undesirables” such as criminals, drug syndicates and corrupt officials which for decades have thrived in the dark underbelly of modern Philippine society; Over and above these, he looks set to wage a new revolution against what he believes is a dysfunctional political and economic system and anti-developmental culture which have created and perpetuated the very conditions for the “undesirables” to thrive on the one hand and obstruct the Philippines’ path to industrialization on the other.

In Duterte’s pursuit of “Tunay na Pagbabago” or radical change, it is therefore imperative for the Filipino citizenry to maintain a collective critical mindset and attitude on what his mantra truly means and how it is carried out: We must provide full-fledged support to the security and development policies and strategies that will help build strong institutions which will genuinely democratize political power and economic opportunities as well as promote the overall well-being of Filipinos. At the same time, we ought to remain vigilant against any tendencies to build a new religion around his quasi-messianic, strongman persona, or any act that will trample upon human rights of innocent individuals, or any attempt to usurp our country’s democratic systems and processes.

It is in everybody’s interest to see the phenomenal rise of Duterte in the annals of history as the moment we as the Filipino nation freely chose a humble Visayan probinsyano from the distant island of Mindanao to instill upon us a renewed sense of national pride and lead us to reclaim, redefine and deepen democracy, on our own terms.

1 Based on the partial and unofficial results of COMELEC as of 10:45 a.m., 16 May 2016 which represent 96.13% of the election returns (90,631 of 94,276 election returns or 43,715,663 of 55,735,757 registered voters), Rodrigo Duterte leads the presidential race with 15,969,237 votes. He is followed by Mar Roxas (9,700,363), Grace Poe (8,935,716), Jejomar Binay (5,318,232), and Miriam Defensor Santiago (1,424,520). Source: COMELEC-GMA Mirror Server.
2 Ina Andolong, “How Duterte-Cayetano will suppress crime in 3-6 months”, CNN Philippines, 18 April 2016, accessed 17 May 2016,
3 Robertzon Ramirez, “Duterte to rivals: Pray for your ratings to rise”, The Philippine Star, 14 April 2016, accessed 17 May 2016, http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/04/14/1572733/duterte-rivals-pray-your-ratings-rise.
4 Ben Tesiorna, “Rodrigo Duterte: Will he be the next president?” Sun Star Davao, 15 March 2016, accessed 17 May 2016, http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/feature/2016/03/16/rodrigo-duterte-will-he-be-next-president-462642.
5 Ibid.
6 “Duterte vows to double monthly salary of cops, soldiers”, Manila Bulletin, 02 March 2016, accessed 17 May 2016,
7 Carmencita A. Carillo, “Communist party offered posts as Duterte Cabinet takes shape”, Business World, 16 May 2016, accessed 17 May 2016, http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=TopStory&title=communist-party-offered-postsbr-as-duterte-cabinet-takes-shape&id=127583.
8 Ferdinandh B. Cabrera, “Duterte: pass BBL and make Bangsamoro an ‘example’ for the rest to follow”, MindaNews, 28 February 2016, accessed 17 May 2016, http://www.mindanews.com/peace-process/2016/02/28/duterte-pass-bbl-and-make-bangsamoro-an-example-for-the-rest-to-follow/.
9 “Duterte may impose curfew on minors, ban loud karaoke”, ABS-CBN News, 11 May 2016, accessed 17 May 2016, http://news.abs-cbn.com/nation/05/10/16/duterte-may-impose-curfew-on-minors-ban-loud-karaoke.
10 Edith Regalado and Aurea Calica, “Philippines is Asia’s rising tiger”, Philstar Global, 06 February 2013, accessed 05 May 2016, http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2013/02/06/905371/philippines-asias-rising-tiger-world-bank.
11 Disclosed by Carlos Dominguez during a press briefing in Davao City last 13 May 2016, Duterte’s 8-point economic agenda includes the following: (a) Continue and maintain the current macroeconomic policies. Reforms in tax revenue efforts will be complemented by reforms within the bureaucracy of tax collecting agencies. (b) Accelerate spending on infrastructure by addressing major bottlenecks and maintain the target of setting aside 5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to infrastructure spending. © Ensure attractiveness of the Philippines to foreign investors and enhancing competitiveness in doing business in the country. This also means reducing crime to attract investors and increase security of businessmen and consumers. (d) Provide support services to small farmers to increase productivity and improve market access. Provide irrigation and better support services to farmers. Promote tourism in the rural areas. (e) Address bottlenecks the country’s land administration and management system. (f) Strengthen basic education system and provide scholarships for tertiary education which are relevant to private employers’ needs. (g) Improve tax system by indexing tax collection to inflation rate “to enable those who earn a little to have more in their pockets.” (h) Expand and improve implementation of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program. Source: “LIST: Duterte’s 8-point economic agenda”, CNN Philippines, 13 May 2016, accessed 17 May 2016, http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2016/05/12/rodrigo-duterte-eight-point-economic-agenda.html.
12 Pia Ranada, “Duterte’s dream legacy: 3 major train lines across Philippines”, Rappler, 09 April 2016, accessed 17 May 2016, http://www.rappler.com/nation/politics/elections/2016/128807-duterte-railway-systems-china-legacy.
13 “Agenda of the next president: Foreign policy”, Inquirer.net, 15 February 2016, accessed 17 May 2016,
14 Ibid.
15 Ben Tesiorna, “Rodrigo Duterte: Will he be the next president?” Sun Star Davao.
16 Ibid.
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 Mike Frialde, “Duterte to amend Constitution for foreign ownership expansion”, Philippine Star, 04 February 2016, accessed 17 May 2016,

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